NYPD Confidential - An Inside Look at the New York Police Department
Home Page
All Columns
Books
Biography
Contact Leonard Levitt
Search this site
 
Printable version   Send to a friend   Email Leonard Levitt

Wrong number for propriety

August 13, 2004

In what appears to be a footnote to history, One Police Plaza has learned that in the month following the 1981 Brink's robbery in Nanuet, the fugitives in the case made a number of telephone calls to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau's wife at their upstate home.

The calls were discovered shortly after the crime by the bank robbery unit of the NYPD Major Case squad, which performed a telephone "dump" on a number of safe houses - including one in Mount Vernon - that the radicals used.

Although the NYPD knew of the calls, neither Morgenthau nor his journalist wife, Lucinda Franks, were questioned by law enforcement officials.

In separate telephone interviews this month, Morgenthau and Franks said the calls were made to her after she was asked to write an article about Kathy Boudin and the Weather Underground for The New York Times Magazine.

"I took out my old address book and phone books and got in touch with people who put me in contact with the Weather Underground who were still around," said Frank, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for articles about the radical group.

"I finally made contact with people involved in the robbery and called them, and they undoubtedly called me back at one the various numbers I had left them," she said.

Franks said she could not remember who the callers were, although a police source told Newsday one may have been Marilyn Jean Buck, who used the Mount Vernon safe house. Buck, whose car was used in the robbery and who was not captured until 1985, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

"My recollection," Franks said of the callers, "was that they were either wanted by the law for something or had been wanted by the law. There were probably several calls over a period of weeks. I don't remember the specifics, but I remember the calls."

The Brink's robbery, which was carried out by members of the Weather Underground and Black Liberation Army, has resonated for more than two decades. Two Nyack police officers and a security guard were killed in the Oct. 20, 1981, heist.

Four people were arrested at the scene of the $1.6-million robbery. Over the years, seven people were convicted in federal and state courts. Last year, perhaps the most prominent of those arrested, Kathy Boudin, was released from prison after serving 20 years.

 

Franks said she did not discuss the phone calls with her husband "because he is sometimes on the other side of the fence."

"If I am writing about fugitives, I don't compromise him by telling him who I am talking to," she said, adding that if law enforcement officials were aware of the calls, "they may well have wanted to question me. But no one did. I never got any questioning at all. You are the first person who ever asked me about them."

Morgenthau said he didn't ask his wife about the calls.

"I certainly don't censor my wife's phone calls," he said. "They certainly weren't made to me. I didn't ask her who they were from. When she is writing a story, I don't ask her who her sources are."

He added that law enforcement officials never questioned his wife about the calls.

Retired NYPD Lt. John Kelly, at the time a sergeant in a bank robbery unit of the Major Case Squad, told Newsday that police learned of the calls shortly after the robbery.

"It was not me who received any of the information from the dumps," he said. "I didn't direct anyone to do it. But people were discussing the calls in the office. It was common knowledge."

Kelly said his office had been assigned by Patrick J. Murphy, then the chief of department, to file a report on the robbery for then-First Deputy Henry Devine and Police Commissioner Robert McGuire.

Kelly said he was one of the primary writers of a 30- to 40-page report produced in the first two days after the robbery.

But, he said, the calls to Morgenthau's upstate home were not included in it.

"Perhaps," he said, "we learned of them after we wrote our report."

McGuire - who was appointed commissioner by Mayor Edward I. Koch, largely on the recommendation of Morgenthau - did not return calls to Newsday seeking comment.

Alice T. McGillion, the deputy commissioner for public information under McGuire, said she knew nothing of the phone calls. Devine and Murphy are dead.

« Back to top

© 2004 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.